On VJ Day 75 we remember all those FANYs who worked in South East Asia during the Second World War.
The first FANYs went to South East Asia in 1942. These Corps members came from the FANY Kenyan unit (Women’s Transport Service ((East Africa)). In January 1944 they were joined by a group of FANYs from the UK to provide secretarial support to the Supreme Allied Command South East Asia in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The following month, 9 FANYs travelling from Mombassa to Sri Lanka, were killed when their ship the SS Khedive Ismail was sunk by a Japanese submarine. By the end of 1944, over 600 Corps members were serving in Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar and China as wireless operators, radio officers, encryption specialists, drivers and personal assistants.
A group of FANYs, supporting the 14th Army, arrived in Singapore two hours after the Japanese surrender. They spent the next year helping allied prisoners of war and internees. Corps member, M Curry describes the group’s work in Singapore:
“We were the first people into Changi jail with supplies of food. It is impossible to describe the atmosphere and the work in Singapore. With so many thousands of people coming from captivity to freedom it was almost like a world being reborn. The spirit amongst the ex-POWs was something one could never possibly forget. They were so unselfish and so grateful for everything that was done, and it seemed to all of us that the ghastly three years they had spent as prisoners had developed all the better and kinder qualities, and not as one might have suppose, the more selfish instincts. We all felt that it was a great privilege to be able to help these people in any way. “
A FANY supporting Force 136 Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Sri Lanka clearly recalled VJ Day:
“VJ Day came unexpectedly. I remember standing in the Mess talking to one of the returned agents just back from Burma [Myanmar] when the news came through. We broke the lock of the bar and had a double whisky each.”
After the Japanese surrender FANYs were joined by additional members of the Corps who had served in Europe, and the group was transferred to the Army of Occupation. They served in Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Whilst working for a welfare unit in Japan a Corps member was struck by the conditions in Japan:
“In Japan, the winter weather is Arctic. The shortage of supplies has been acute; all the towns are devastated and though conditions are improving, the process is slow and the struggle against difficulties is endless, not only for the families but for everyone else in Japan.”
Lieutenant-General Sir John des Reaux Swayne, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of South Eastern Command during the Second World War, was full of praise for the Corps service:
“Wherever your members have been or whatever they have been asked to do, the spirit of ready enterprise with which every new task has been accepted, has won the unstinted admiration of all those in the Services with whom they have served. The FANY may well be proud of the contribution which their Welfare Unit has made to the high morale and reputation of the Army in the Far East by their cheerful presence and powers of improvisation and initiative under the most unpromising conditions.”
The memory and sacrifice of these Corps members continues to inspire us today. We will remember them.
To learn more about what individual members of the FANY did in South East Asia during the Second World War go to our social media channels, where through out the day we will be posting case studies of some extraordinary Corps members, including Marsali Wood who is in the picture above.